Updating your landscape is a great home improvement project, whether you’re a novice or experienced. There are no walls to demolish, no heat vents to work around. Tools can be affordable and low-tech.
And the best part? You get to be outside.
One of the biggest trends in landscaping is the outdoor room. Whether it’s simple patios with freestanding fire pits or a custom outdoor kitchen with grill island, prep area and built-in refrigerator, clients love living outdoors.
“People are looking to be outside and using their yard as another room,” says Kurt Miller, owner of Thornapple Landscape Inc. in Geneva. “Having the kitchen and refrigeration out on the deck or by the pool cuts down on going back and forth.”
Vertical structures such as pergolas built with wood or PVC material also are in demand, says Steve Baier, president of A Natural Choice Shamrock Landscaping in St. Charles and Elburn. “I do quite a few pergolas, which give shade over the patio but still have an open feeling.”
Baier agrees that outdoor rooms with fire elements are popular and says that new concrete and clay products have made them affordable for a wider range of consumers.
“People are looking for a backyard paradise, and it can be done on a decent budget,” he says. Customers also want their landscaping to be long lasting and easy to care for.
“There have been a lot of new perennial varieties that have come out that bloom longer,” Miller says. “There’s more color in landscape now than there used to be.”
Where to start While it’s great to dream, it’s also important to have a plan, whether you’re hiring a pro or doing the work yourself.
Set a realistic budget, and realize that $6,000 to $10,000 is a good place to start for a simple patio and seat wall, pros say.
If you’re planning to do the work, consider your own abilities and the amount of time you have to devote to the project. And don’t neglect unglamorous, but vital, foundation work for patios, walkways and other structures to prevent do-overs later.
When planning a garden or shrub, keep scale in mind. Miller says a common mistake is to underestimate the amount of room a mature plant will need.
“They plant too close to the house or too close to a walkway and have to keep pruning it back,” he says.
Too-narrow landscape beds often lack texture and variety, and a front walkway less than four feet across may feel less welcoming.
“You need to consider how it looks leading up to the houses,” Miller says. “Most of the time, it’s built too small.”
DIY tips Proper mulching can make a big difference, not only in how your landscaping looks, but also in the health of your plants. But Baier says that homeowners, and even some landscape professionals, often lay mulch improperly.
“When you mulch a tree ring like a volcano, it can cause the tree to rot at the trunk,” he says. “Small trees can snap off in a strong wind.”
Instead, create a bowl shape with taller outside edges to capture water as it drips from the tree. Baier also cautions against using mulch from public piles, which he says can be infected with insects. Instead, he recommends using professional grade double or triple-processed mulch.
“Cheap mulch is cheap for a reason,” he says.
Evergreens, planted to hide a home’s foundation, should be intended as a backdrop for other plants, not to stand alone. Plant layers against them, starting with taller perennials in the back and working down to short annuals in the front.
And keep in mind that art elements, such as birdbaths or stones, can add texture and interest. Creating a strong first impression and improving your home’s curb appeal doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Pots planted with colorful annuals as well as a small bench or seat can make the outside of your home more inviting.
Miller also suggests planting a tree.
“It frames the front of your house, adds shade and color,” he says.
He likes the State Street Maple, developed locally by the Morton Arboretum.
Professionals agree that one of the easiest ways to improve the look of your home is to keep up with routine maintenance of your existing landscape.
“Keep your edges crisp; make sure your perennials are cut properly,” Baier says. “Turn your mulch and add to it periodically because that holds your moisture and makes a big difference.” kc
LANDSCAPING MAINTENANCE CALENDARCourtesy of A Natural Choice Shamrock Landscaping Inc.
JANUARY • Remove heavy snow from trees and shrubs, especially evergreens, to prevent damage
FEBRUARY • Complete structural pruning on trees and srubs
MARCH • Remove winter protection materials • Check for pests • Schedule spring lawn fertilization • Transplant new trees and shrubs into the ground after it thaws
APRIL • Cut back ornamental grasses • Prune summer flowering shrubs that have become too large • Apply preemergence herbicides (preventative weed killer) • Seed and fertilize lawn
MAY • Plant annuals, new perennials and summer bulbs once the danger of frost has passed (no earlier than May 15) • Divide perennials • Continue weed control (spot treatments, pulling by hand)
JUNE • Apply mulches • Trim hedges • Control pests • Ensure that plants are receiving enough water • Continue weed control • Mow lawn at higher setting during the summer
JULY • Perform light pruning; heavy pruning in the summer can damage plants • Check for diseases in trees • Continue weed control • Control pests • Ensure that plants are receiving enough water
AUGUST • Control pests • Continue weed control • Ensure that plants are getting enough water
SEPTEMBER • Seed lawn (before Sept. 15) • Aerate and overseed bare spots • Plant new shrubs and perennials now to minimize the amount of water needed • Continue weed control • Ensure plants are receiving enough water
OCTOBER • Plant bulbs for next spring • Prepare lawns for the winter; clear leaves/debris and complete one final mowing • Have a trained arborist inspect trees for health and maintenance issues
NOVEMBER • Cut back perennials • Pull up annuals • Finish winter preparations • Structural pruning of trees and shrubs should be completed in the winter months when the leaves are off
DECEMBER • Grind unsightly stumps • Use sand on icy walkways to avoid salt damage to the lawn or any nearby plants